Long Beach State kept alive its hopes of winning a share of the Big West Conference title Saturday night when the 49ers staged an eighth-inning comeback and defeated Cal State Fullerton, 8-6, at Blair Field in Long Beach.
Long Beach (36-19, 15-8 Big West) moved to within a game of Fullerton (37-18, 16-7), with their season finale today at 1 p.m. Should Long Beach win and the teams tie for the title, Long Beach would earn the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs based on head-to-head tiebreaker.
"It's the way it should be," Long Beach Coach Mike Weathers said. "These two teams going to the last day for the title."
Fullerton appeared in line to clinch the outright title by taking a 6-5 lead into the eighth inning, but Long Beach, aided by three walks, scored three times in the inning.
T.J. Mittelstaedt drew a bases-loaded walk against Fullerton closer Adam Jorgenson to tie the score at 6-6, then Jonathan Jones followed by hitting a high bouncer over third base for a two-run double.
The Titans got two runners on with one out in the ninth, but Long Beach closer Bryan Shaw struck out Jared Clark, whose seventh-inning home run had broken a 5-5 tie, then induced Brian Wilson to ground out for his eighth save.
"It creates more drama in the Fullerton-Long Beach rivalry," Titans Coach Dave Serrano said. "It was a good game and I don't mind saying that even though we lost."
There is more on the line than the conference title in this series. Fullerton is hoping to secure a top-eight national seeding for the NCAA tournament and Long Beach is hoping to play host to a regional.
The national seeding and host sites will be announced today by the NCAA.
"I think the fates have already been decided," Serrano said. "I don't think one loss or victory should determine those things. We'll be judged on our bodies of work over 56 games, not one."
Weathers said he thought the 49ers needed to win at least one game to earn host status, but added that there were more important stakes.
"To win the conference championship remains the No. 1 goal," he said.